Iceland – Volcano Hunting

Meradalir volcano

16 hours in Iceland 

Before we crack in, my expensive meter is determined by the price of a beer. I know we only had 16 hours but that did not stop us!

1 beer = €10

Have you ever been in a situation where no matter what, you have to do everything in your power to fulfil a life’s goal? This is one of those moments.

On March 19th, 2021, The Fagradalsfjall volcano erupted and Iceland saw the birth of new earth. For a period of 6 months, lava flowed continuously through the valley, taking on a new shape every day. Unfortunately, I was not able to witness this spectacular display by mother nature. When I finally had an opportunity to visit, the volcanic activity had ceased and my time had passed.

On Wednesday, August 3rd, 2022, breaking news alerted of a new eruption that had surfaced. Located in the same valley and just a short distance from last years eruption, the volcano known as Meradalir had formed.

As soon as news broke, I dropped everything and planned to book flights for Saturday the 6th. Flights were actually reasonable but I slept on the impulse buy as I used social media to gauge interest with fellow creators to join me. I checked flights the next morning and they had doubled, classic!

No dramas, I was not going to let anything get in the way of this opportunity. The only availability I had on my schedule was for next weekend, Saturday the 16th until Sunday the 17th, otherwise, I was going to have to wait until October. With my fate laying in the hands of Mother Nature, I could not take the risk to wait until then. 

I chatted with other creators who had serious interest, told them my plans and went ahead with booking my flights, rental car and hostel. The itinerary only allowed 16 hours on the ground in Iceland and I was sure as hell going to make the most of it. 

10 days flew by and an experience of a lifetime was about to begin. 

Why only 16 hours? I’m sure that is your first question and you are finding it hard to believe I would embark on such a journey. Would it even be worth it for that amount of time?! Being a professional rugby player, we are not allocated holiday days. I flew with Play Airlines (Originally WOW), the flight leaves at 10:45am and arrives at 12:30pm with no later flight. 

Unfortunately, this meant I was not able to fly on the Friday, which of course would have been preferred. The flight on Sunday leaves at 6 am and arrives at 9:30am, which if I had a work from home job would mean I could have potentially stayed another night!

What was originally a solo mission, became a 3-man expedition. Two lads I have never met before, but I had chatted with for a long time on socials, Jimmy Hawkshaw and Danny Watchorn. We didn’t know what was ahead, but we were ready for a great time. A 9 am pint in the airport definitely set us off on the right path!

The lads! Harry, Jimmy and Danny set for Iceland.

Info

Play Airlines 

10:45/12:30 – 6:00/9:30am
€229 
€25 E/W – 12kg Carry on Bag + small 8kg personal item.
+ additional airport & airline fees (€61.93)
= €341.93

Hostel Lava

€41
45 minutes from Keflavik airport
15 Minutes from Reykjavik
1 hour from the Volcano car park

Book Lava Hostel here

Rental Car

Ice Rental car
Category: Volkswagen Polo or similar – We received a Hyundai i30
€133 for one day
€32 insurance or €2,900 deposit.
€165  3 
=€55

The trip

Volcano Cans!!!

A slight delay out of Dublin airport saw us land into Iceland at 1:15pm into a very quiet Keflavik airport. We were able to make a quick exit and make our way over to Ice rental cars. It was a beautiful sunny day, uncommon for Iceland, so we walked 10 minutes from the terminal to the office. There is a shuttle bus available which I’d recommend for bad weather days.

Car rental was very easy. Passport, driving license and credit card, the gentlemen at the desk went to work and called me back when he had the keys ready for me. All of which took about 15 minutes. Using the car diagram printed on the contract, he circled all the marks on the car and as we had paid for insurance, he said he didn’t have to look at the car with us. We of course took photos and videos of the car for our own peace of mind.

A 45-minute drive brought us to the Lava hostel. We arrived for 3 pm and there was no staff as check in is allocated for 7pm. Quite an odd check in time but a phone number is available to call. A very nice guy picked up the phone to say he was at home having a shower and changing his clothes. As we had plans to be at the volcano for 7 we were not going to be sticking around. “No problem, I’ll leave the keys in a safe box outside for when you come back” – Problem solved. We treated ourselves to fresh coffee in the lobby and made our way into Reykjavik for lunch.

Reykjavik is a stunning little city with amazing street art, great restaurants and buzzy bars. Iceland has a population of only 350,000, so when you leave the main district, the surrounding streets are desolate and quiet. It’s really nice and it doesn’t feel like you are trapped in a capital city. Notoriously, Iceland is also an expensive country but we managed to find a lunch deal in a vibey Mexican restaurant – La Poblana. €17.50 for a burrito, salsa, chips and a drink!

After a feed we headed to the Supermarket, Kronan,  to pick up hike supplies. We knew that there would be no access to any shops once we left on our adventure and needed to be prepared. I spent €35 on a variation of food – Ham, bread, 4 Skyr yogurts, 2 chocolate milks, chocolate bars and snack bars. By the end of the hike, I did not finish all of my food and kept some for the morning before my flight. I was quite full and I was not rationing my food, which was nice. I saved myself paying for dinner and breakfast.

Fully supplied, we drove an hour to Parking Lot 1. This is the best place to park for the new eruption site. It is hard to miss with the number of people/cars/police/staff around.

Parking is free, there are no bathrooms or sheltered areas on site & there was a fish n chips van when we visited! We changed into our hiking gear at the car, making sure to prep for all scenarios. Iceland’s weather is more temperamental than Ireland’s!

The hike is along Route A – and will take on average 2 hours. We set off at 6pm, the beginning of the hike is along a quick incline which finishes off with some switchbacks. Here you will have a great view of some of last year’s Lava field.

After the incline section you face a relatively flat hike for 90 minutes. The issue with this section is that is consists of very rocky terrain which you need to be careful maneuvering through. We witnessed am extremely wide range of hiking apparel, one guy was wearing a tracksuit & sandals! Please, please, please be prepared and wear appropriate gear.

Click here for a 360 Panorma Map of Route A

The final section is a quick descent leading to the view point. You should be able to hear the Volcano bubbling away. To your right you will also have a fantastic view of the old crater, really fascinating.

One you approach, be ready to have you breathe taken away by the spectacle. It is a moment I will never be able to forget and I still am unable to describe the scenario, it can only be experienced.

Arriving at 8pm, we still had two hours of daylight, we used this time to become acquainted with the layout of the land and which areas were safe to situate ourselves. When it become dark, you do have the residual light from the lava which helps but its best have a good sense of the land with daylight and use a headtorch to move around.

Wind direction is crucial when visiting the volcano. Gases which are emitted are highly dangerous and can cause death if inhaled. Make sure to be upwind and be aware of changes in direction as that can happen quickly. Also be mindful of the forecast. Rain has caused the trail and site to be shut down and no public access is allowed.

We made the most of our time while also knowing we had to be back at the airport for 4 am. By 11:30pm we called it quits and began our hike back in the dark. It is essential to bring a good head lamp and spare batteries just in case. For our experience, as we had good weather and it was a Saturday, the trail was very busy with people coming and going from the site all day and night. Although the trail is well laid out and has flashing beacons, the constant sight of head lights in the distance helped with out route back. We arrived back to the car at 1:30am with pretty sore feet and heavy shoulders. We had soaked every layer of clothing we had with sweat; it was time for a very quick change into clean clothes.

A game plan was decided. With a hour car drive to the hostel and then another 45 minutes to the airport, it did not make sense to head back. With the knowledge of bars staying open until 4am we decided that was the smartest option. Of course, we found Paddy’s Irish bar, located in Reykjanesbær – a 5 minute drive to Keflavik airport, very ideal.

We arrived at 2 am and as I was driving, I had 1 Guinness and the lads tucked into 5 very creamy pints. I must say, Paddy’s served a tastier pint of Guinness than I have had in some places in Ireland!! The pub was packed with locals enjoying their weekend and the DJ played belter after belter. Highly recommend if you plan to join a #teamnosleep mission.

3:45 am we dropped the car off, left the keys in drop box and headed into the airport. When we arrived, it was reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic movie scene! Iceland is famous for wild camping, so every man, woman and child who owned a sleeping bag and had a morning flight, were asleep in every crevice of the airport.

Word of warning

We did not have check in luggage, but the check in counter for Play was rammed and did not look like a fun queue to join at 4 am. We flew through security and waited at our gate until boarding. Sleeping the entire flight, we landed back into Dublin for breakfast!

Mission Smash and Grab – Complete

Three wise men!

Side note – of course this trip can be completed with a better time frame but I wanted to show what is possible if needs be. We had the best time ever and we were blessed with some luck from the weather gods. Iceland is an incredible destination and I highly recommend it. 

Must haves

Head torch & spare batteries
Rain jacket/Shell
Waterproof pants/shell
Good hiking boots
Food, water, essential amenities
Multiple layers, thick socks, gloves, snood, beanie
Hand/ feet warmers 
Glasses or goggles for possible wind and dust
Gaia app to track your hike 

Some say even a gas mask!

Although there is a massive volcano emitting a ton of heat, you cannot rely on that heat source and risk hypothermia! Please be prepared for cold weather.

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